Until You Wake
Until You Wake is a third-person shooter developed in Unity. Equipped with a bow and blessings from The Goddess, the player must battle their way through an ancient temple to purge the demonic presence within.
I was the Design Lead, Level Designer, and Narrative Designer on the project.
• Coordinated with other designers to plan and execute weekly sprints
• Gave weekly reports to the whole team on design progress, goals, and roadblocks
• Organized play tests
• Organized, transcribed, and collated playtest data
• Designed and iterated all encounters contribute to preparing the player for the final boss fight
• Grey-boxed all levels in Maya
• Implemented all interactive props, triggered events, and encounters through C# scripting
•Collaborated with the art team on lighting, prop placement, and narrative for each level
• Wrote the game's script and workshopped with team members from all disciplines
• Worked with the art team to establish the main character and their journey
• Communicated world-building and story-oriented details to the environment and audio teams
Final Level Design Document
In the pre-production phase, the design team's goal was to explore a variety of 3D action mechanics and determine the best direction for the next two semesters of this project. While the team knew from the start that our game would be a third-person action game, the incredible breadth of that space demanded that we spend time exploring our options and finding the best balance. Thus, the first five weeks of this semester were dedicated to building small, mechanical prototypes that included a variety of potential mechanics, including Gears of War-style cover, bullet-time, and much more.
At the end of this exploration phase, we had decided on a bow-shooting mechanic, cover, and what we internally called "the force," which allowed the player to manipulate specific objects from a distance.
As the mechanics started to fall into place, I met with the art team to determine the general setting, as well as the purpose of each room in the game, both narratively and mechanically. I drafted the level design document above after that meeting. That document is interesting to look back on now, as over half of those environments ended up being cut, and the other half changed radically over the course of the project.
For the rest of the semester, I worked on grey-boxing each area, then moving them into Unity to implement props, triggers, and some basic lighting. For each iteration of a room, I would get feedback both from players and the art team, attempting to strike the balance between good visual composition and interesting gameplay. Additionally, this was the first game project in which I had ever used Maya or something like it. From the image galleries above and in the other sections, you can see my skill and familiarity with the program grow over the course of the project.
At the start of production, several decisions about the game's level were made, specifically to cut a dedicated boss room. Instead, we initially decided to put the boss in the courtyard, but this changed later to the chapel (the starting room) when more environments were cut later on. These cuts were made primarily due to art scope, as we only had one dedicated environment artist. Looking back, however, I believe that these cuts improved the game overall, as they gave me more time to iterate the remaining environments as much as possible.
As the environment artist worked on their first pass on the chapel and hallway areas, I worked on iterating the courtyard, library, and Goddess Room environments. These areas changed rapidly as we tweaked combat encounters, pacing, and the order in which mechanics were developed. As in the previous semester, I collected input from both playtesters and the art team for each of my iterations.
About halfway through the semester, another major change hit the game's level design: the library needed to be cut. Our environment artist simply didn't have the bandwidth for it, so we needed to make the game work without it. This meant adjusting the encounter progression for all other areas and, most importantly, moving the boss fight to chapel. This allowed us to have the player go through the hallway and courtyard environments a second time, allowing for more combat encounters and mechanical progression.
After making these adjustments, I spent the rest of the semester implementing the environment artist's meshes for each level and playtesting. For issues with transversal, difficulty, enemy position or prop position I would make the necessary tweaks myself, and any issues with the level geometry were communicated to the environment artist. In the end, we came up with what you can see in the video above.
For the final semester of this project, I focused on solving three major issues present in our game at the end of production: a lack of mechanical progression, poor flow between environments, and a lack of effective story beats. In addition to all this, I implemented new art assets as they were finished, cutscenes, and all encounters save for the boss fight.
Regarding our mechanics, my main concern was that they did not expand or evolve over the course of the game, nor did they connect with the boss fight in a meaningful way. To solve this, I worked with the team's system designer to draft and implement a new version of the "force" mechanic that the player could learn, practice throughout the game, then execute in the final boss fight. In this new version, the player used the "force" on ethereal swords granted to them by the Goddess. These swords were the only way to punch through demonic barriers, which are used first as transversal obstacles, then later as the boss's defensive phase. To evolve this mechanic, halfway through the game we introduce "greater shards" that the player must charge by standing near them and defeating enemies. This allowed me, as the level designer, to force players into specific spots on the map and challenge them to defeat enemies while in those positions.
Next, a major problem with our game was the large amount of backtracking, as the player had to walk back through the courtyard, hallway, and chapel environments to reach the final boss. This was a consequence of cuts made in production, and it mandated a more effective fix. To that end, I worked the environment artist to find the lowest-scope way that we could minimize backtracking. After playtesting a few different solutions, we settled on a small transition room that leads from the courtyard to the end of the hallway closest to the chapel. To make this possible, we also had to modify the shape of the hallway so that it wraps around the courtyard. This structure is what can be seen in the final level design document, and I believe it does a substantially better job maintaining the game's momentum leading into the boss fight.
On top of this, I worked with the art team and the audio designer to better represent our game's story in the game. We drafted new documents that pinned down the world's backstory, set specific ages and references for the architecture, and modified the player's objectives to fit a more compelling narrative structure. Finally, I wrote a short voice-over script to both clarify player objectives and create another avenue for worldbuilding. This script was drafted and recorded early on, but was iterated and re-recorded several times over the course of the semester.